The hardest goodbye was the first. The first death of a loved one who was close to my heart and with whom I had spent so much time. I remember looking down at her as she lay in the coffin. She seemed so small and insignificant and yet she had been a large force in my life for so many years. I remembered her presence, her love, and her wisdom.
The hardest goodbye was the first. In saying goodbye to her, I said goodbye to the inexperience of death. I learned, firsthand, what it meant to longer touch the person I loved. I learned what it meant to no longer confide in her and laugh with her. To no longer hear her stories, or listen to her advice. I had never thought she would not be a part of my life.
The hardest goodbye was the first. I hold onto the memories of my loved ones who have left this life. I think of them often, sometimes unexpectedly. Tears come to my eyes. I miss them and long for them. My life is filled with others – some whom I love as much as I did the ones who have gone. And yet they are never replaced.
The hardest goodbye was the first. And with the first goodbye, I knew that others would come after. The circle of life includes death; and I have come to accept this. And yet saying a final goodbye to a loved one never gets easier.
The hardest goodbye was the first. And the experience did not harden my heart. The goodbyes that have come after still rip my heart apart and bring me heartache.
I remember break time. It was a time I did not enjoy. Being outside, alone. I remember sitting in the concrete tube: it was huge, round and smooth. It was a good place to sit and eat my sandwich in solitude. I remember opening my lunchbox and thinking, “Peanut butter, again!” Lunch was always the same: two slices of bread glued together with All Gold Fruit Jam, or Black Cat Peanut Butter. I ate because it was time to eat, and I had nothing better to do. I sat on the concrete curve, shaping my back against its smooth coolness. I heard the cries of the children outside my cocoon – playing ‘catches’. How I wished that I could join them! But I was too timid, too shy, too unused to being with strangers – even if they were children. I smothered my longing with a bite of the sandwich, the sticky texture adhering to my palate. I remember day was warm. My legs were uncovered, my white ankle socks high enough to keep the brand new shoes from hurting the bony back of my feet. The trees in the playground were green, and the grass had not yet been worn away by the running feet of children. The bell rang. Finally. I left the safety of my haven and walked towards the line outside the classroom. At least inside I could work happily on the activities given to me by the teacher. Maybe inside I could learn to make friends.
(Kellie is back! Join her and her writing bandits for the first #FWF prompt. This week we are asked to write about our first memory. My memory is of the first days at school when I knew no-one and had not yet made friends.)
I had seen the key once before – the key that opened the door to the secrets of the city. Its burnished gold glittered in the sunlight, the workings on it an indication of its importance. Seeing it had been a mistake. Not mine, but that of the official who held it. A low level citizen like me should not have even have seen who was holding the key. But then not many people pay attention to me. My silence adds to my nondescript appearance. And no-one pays attention, anyway, to a person who looks pale and frail. People look at my body and pity me. They realise I am unable to run long distances, battle my opponent physically, use my strength to get where I need to be. And yet I pity them. They are unable to mentally understand the ramifications of their strength. My mind is a far more powerful tool than their brute force.
My intention now is to get hold of the key and to control what is behind the door. We believe, my friends and I, that whoever holds the secrets to the city holds the power. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of this fair city would enable us to take it over. For too long have we been subjected to the might of those who are physically stronger than us. We needed to show the citizens that strength does not make a person better or more powerful. We needed to show them that intelligence matters too, and that intellect can rule the world.
Summer is almost over. The air is cooling and the days are getting shorter. Our time in this beautiful part of the world is drawing to a close. In a few days, we will be back home: back to the routine of waking up early and rushing to work. I do not look forward to the stress and the endless days that merge into one. Returning to that life does not bear thinking about. I would much rather spend time here, in these woods, listening to the sound of the birds and seeing the greenery of the dense trees.
I guess it is time to go back. I need to organise the clean-up, clear out the fridge, strip the beds. Somehow I have ended up in the mother-role among my group of friends. The result, maybe, of being the eldest child with the parental expectation that I would always be a good little helper. I look around and realise that I have no idea where I am. In my desire to escape the realities of my life, I have wandered into the thickest part of the woods. I turn around and walk back to where I think I was. Surely I will eventually get to the cottage we rented for two weeks if I continue on this path?
Walking through the trees, I come across a clearing and see a gypsy wagon. I am drawn to this old method of transport. I have heard the stories about gypsies and how dangerous they are. And yet I feel the need to move towards this home. As I near the wagon I call out: “Hello?” My only answer seems to be the chirping birds and the sound of the leaves rustling in the trees above me. “Is anybody home?”
The door to the gypsy home opens and before me stands a young woman. Her wavy black hair frames her olive-coloured skin. Her blue eyes seem to pierce deep within my soul. I have the sense she is looking deep within me. Whatever she sees must have pleased her for she smiles and holds out her hand towards me. “Come in Talia. I have been waiting for you.”
How did she know my name? Heart beating, I am drawn to enter her space. Inside the wagon, it is cool. For some reason my fear vanishes. I sense instinctively that this woman means me no harm. “Come sit down with me and we will look at what it is you wish to know.” Was she a fortuneteller, here to tall me my future?
I sit down opposite her at the small table. She smiles at me. “You have come to a crossroads Talia. You have allowed yourself to be persuaded to lead a life that you do not wish to have. You work at a job you do not enjoy, you are to be married to a man you do not love, you have shelved your dreams and forgotten what it is to be truly happy and content. You are to make a decision soon that could either let you continue with this life – or lead you away from all this.”
“You cannot tell me what is going to happen for certain?”
“Nothing is for certain Talia. In our lives we come across opportunities and we make choices. These choices impact on the type of life that we live. Soon you are going to make one such choice. I cannot see which way you will decide. I do see, however, that you feel stifled in your current life and that you desire the freedom of change.”
I look at her and remember all the frustration, stress and unhappiness that I had felt over the last two years. Her words do not surprise me.
“Would you like something to drink before I take you to where you need to be?”
“A glass of water would be good. I do admit I am a little lost. I’ve been wandering in these woods for a couple of hours.”
“The trees can be a little disorientating if you are not used to them. I will lead you out – though I do not wish for your friends to see me. Not everyone is as accepting of my lifestyle and appearance as you are.”
I enjoy my short time withe the gypsy woman. As promised she takes me to the edge of the woods and waves goodbye. As I walk up the track to where we were staying, I come across those who were walking from another part of the wooded area. Normally I would have ignored them and walked straight on. But at that moment I no longer wanted to be a city girl – I wished instead to enjoy the open friendliness of the people who lived in the countryside. Walking with them, I learn about their project to keep the woods safe from development. They tell me passionately about the loss of so many trees and ecosystems in the area. They want to make this woodland a nature reserve and, with the backing of local wealth, they intend to preserve it for many generations to enjoy. What they needed now was someone who would deal with the legal issues.
I go back to the city. But only to tidy things up. I work my notice and give the ring back to my fiance. I pack my boxes and leave behind all the trappings of corporate life. An opportunity came and I made a choice. A choice I have never regretted.
What choices have you made that you did not regret?
The piano that I often helped to polish stood gleaming against the wall; the stool covered in red cloth pushed underneath. During the day the piano was not played but stood in pride of place with photos adorning its mahogany top. Most days, after his arrival home from work, he would open the piano to reveal the black and white keys. He would sit down with a smile of pleasure and move his fingers along the keys to create sound. At times he would place sheet music on the music rack, but often the song flowed through his fingers by memory.
I now realise that playing the piano after work was my dad’s way to relax after a stressful day. His pre-dinner drink would be on hand as played the tunes of the songs he loved. This was his time alone – a time he took even over the weekend. The sound of the piano would echo throughout the whole house and the silence that came when the sound stopped was the signal for supper time.
I wonder where the music took him as his fingers moved over the keys. Did the haunting ballads take him to still, faraway places? Did the jives and the cha-chas take him to the dance halls? Did certain songs take him to places in his past? Did the music make him think of the people he had in his life?
The piano lived with my dad until the day he died. Up until then it still stood gleaming against the wall, waiting to be played. Now it remains a memory of my father and my childhood.
My childhood room was always a safe haven for me: a place where I could quietly immerse myself in the stories I loved to read; a place where I could spend time doing calligraphy and drawing; a place where I could practise mathematics and do my homework.
My parents helped me create this haven. I remember the time we spent searching for the right furniture in the second hand stores, entering store after store because I had not yet found that perfect wardrobe nor that matching dressing table. I wanted wood and something old-fashioned and what better place to find it than in places where people sent their unwanted furniture. We eventually found what I wanted. I loved the way the wood had been carved to create beauty; the way the varnished wood glistened and shone once it had been polished.
I chose the colour of my room as well, opting for my favourite colour of the moment: green. My parents and I painted the walls a hue of my chosen colour. I remember the round table I had next to my bedside. My mother had sewn a white tablecloth which she decorated with fabric paints. She spent time as well creating a duvet cover for me on the sewing machine. On my bedside table I placed my alarm clock and the books I was currently reading next to a pot plant. I enjoyed plants and had quite a few in my room. My desk was a polished brown with six drawers. I spent many hours happily seated on the chair with my feet settled on the bar underneath. The desk no longer graced the floor of an office and instead experienced the writing and doodlings of a teenage girl. The greens in the room and the browns of the furniture calmed me and made me feel that I was happy in my own space.
My bedroom was one of my favourite places to be during my childhood. I would often lie curled up on my bed with our cat, transported to worlds that authors took me. I was always happy that my parents had given me my own space and had allowed me to do with it what I wanted.
The fire burned brightly in the dark, warming those who sat around it. I moved closer to my love, getting warmth not only from the crackling wood but also from his arm that hugged me closer to him. I felt content sitting here in the dark with him and the others I had come to know in the last few days. The time away from the humdrum routine of work, work, and even more work had done me good in more ways than one. I had come to a decision about what it was I wanted to do – and with whom I wanted to spend my time. The long hikes each day, the whisper of the trees and the music of the insects had helped to calm my mind and set it free from the never-ending thoughts of doubt.
I would go back home and begin to pack up my childhood; say goodbye to the security of my past. I would leave, too, the job that sucked me into long hours in front of the computer with my ear attached to the phone. When I had taken the work on, I began as an idealist wanting to change the world and confident that I could. Years, however, had shown me that lack of money and resources created a never-ending battle against the slide into poverty and despair that so many experienced. Now it was time to be selfish. To care about only me.
I will leave the life I know behind and move forward into the unknown future with a man who has shown me so much. He has given me back my enthusiasm, my zest for life, my desire to take pleasure in the little things. I will move to a new country, experience a new culture, and learn a new language. And I will do so with no regrets for what I leave behind.
I look at the crackling fire and let the conversation of the others wash over me. I snuggle closer to my man. He looks at me with a smile and gives me a gentle kiss. “I love you,” he whispers. And it is that knowledge that makes me strong.
I am so happy I convinced my man to bring me here. I feel giddy with joy. I love the buzz of people; and the sounds of the music playing energises me. How I love teasing him, this man of mine. I want to bring a little joy into his life – he is so serious all of the time and needs to smile a little more.
My favourite local band is playing and I wish to be closer to feel the vibe. I bounce ahead, confident he will follow me. I feel the warmth of the people surrounding me. Their energy. Their happiness. I am definitely on a natural high, as my sister would say. I feel a push on my back and I look around quickly. Nothing. I suddenly feel insecure. Maybe I should go back to him now. He always makes me feel safe and confident. The surge of the crowd pushes me a little more forward as the singer reaches the crescendo of her song. The crowd goes wild, singing along to the chorus. I feel the push again in my back, and then something over my mouth. I breathe in a sweet smelling scent and begin to feel a little dizzy. I feel strong arms pick me up and carry me to the edge of the crowd that stands in front of the stage. As we move, I sense the mass of humanity moving in to fill the space left behind.
He takes me to a darkened corner: behind the sound of the music, behind the roaring crowd and the drumbeats. He lays me down roughly and covers my mouth tightly with a bandanna. “What a pretty little thing you are. I was watching you and knew I had to have a little piece of you.” He ties my hands tightly to the poles of the bandstand. Then he takes out a knife, its smooth blade glinting in the light captured from the concert. He moves the blade slowly down my neck towards my breasts, teasing me with its coldness. My eyes wide, I begin to scream silently and try to get away from his hulking mass. I feared the worst was going to happen – and knew I would not be proven wrong.
I look for her bright red hair bobbing in the sea of people. I had warned her that I might lose her if she did not stay close by. But she had laughed gaily and called me a stuffed shirt. I want to be more carefree and easy-going, I really do. I want to worry less, and to take each moment as it comes. I find it difficult though – and stressful. Now, instead of enjoying the show and listening to the groups sing, I am shoving my way in between the press of people while looking for her pixie face. I could feel the worry constricting my chest. I had been wrong to come here; I had been wrong to try suppress my innate feelings of repulsion for large crowds; I had been wrong to allow her to convince me to attend.
I could not bear it any longer! I push my way through to the edge of the human mass. I need to get out, to feel the constrictions on my chest lessen. Finally! I take a deep breath and walk slowly on the gravel. Here the crowds are thinner. This is where I would wait. I am still worried about where my red-headed love is; but I know she will find me afterwards. She has survived many years without my care and anxiety, and I convince myself that she would survive this evening. I find a space to sit down and sink to the ground. Closing my eyes, I listen to the melodies and the haunting quality of the singer’s voice.
Little did I know that I had reason for concern. Tonight was unlucky for my love and I would not see her smile for a long time. Someone within the crowd had targeted her beauty and zest for life, craving to take it for himself. While I was calming down and listening to the open air concert, she was struggling to gain her breath and was screaming out my name in her head.
The electronic doors open to the accompaniment of sound. They enter. Some are unknown to me but others I see everyday. These are people from all walks of life: men dressed in suits or jeans; women huddled in their coats or holding the hand of a little one; teens on their way to school with their backpack hanging over their shoulder. I notice that the woman with the red hair is not feeling well today: she keeps wiping her nose with the tissue she holds in her hand. The middle-aged man in a suit looks as if he did not get enough sleep last night. When will these humans learn that sleep deprivation is not the answer to keeping a deadline?Ah, young love is opposite me. I enjoy hearing the giggles, the whispers and seeing the joy they experience at being together. Not at all like the couple next to me who pointedly avoid speaking to one another, Blackberries in their hands. A bleary-eyed young man welcomes the sight of me with a sigh. Not enough sleep, but he sits with a contented smile on his face. Something is making him happy. The doors swish open again and some people leave while yet more enter.